Gym culture is important. It defines how your gym feels from the atmosphere to the temperament of the staff, trainers, and even your clients. When you run your gym to have a positive, people-focused culture, everything gets better.
We’re going to talk about the keys to being the perfect affiliate and creating the best gym culture imaginable. Without spoiling anything, some of this does involve continued education for your staff, so keep that in mind when it comes to staffing costs. Let’s take a look at what it takes to make the perfect gym culture.
What Gym Culture is and Why it Matters
In the end, gym culture is a bunch of people who do the same thing and they do it in the same place, but there’s a reason that gym culture is unlike any other group.
Gym culture enforces good habits and is centered around success as well as bettering yourself. That’s a pretty remarkable list of traits to have in a group.
The difference is that everyone is working towards goals that are objectively good for you instead of solely working towards a common interest. Pile that with the fact that working out boosts adrenaline, endorphins, and actually helps you stave-off symptoms of depression, and it’s no wonder why people identify with the gym culture.
Gym culture is often looked at as a club of people masking their insecurities who solely look to improve their aesthetics for vanity. You want to break this stereotype with your gym culture.
Four Pillars of Good Gym Culture
To build a solid gym culture, there are four principles you need to adopt. We’ll go over them all in detail to help you build the most inclusive, respectable gym culture of all your competitors.
Be Professional at All Times
You want to maintain a completely professional demeanor at all times. It’s a very fine line between being a buddy-buddy boss and being a respectable but approachable leader. It’s very easy to make your employees think you’re their friend, and while it’s good to be friendly and create a happy work environment, you don’t want to blur the lines.
With clients, be sure that you don’t ask them questions that are too personal. Talk to them about their goals, what they hope to achieve in your gym, and keep it in that realm of conversation. That way it’s still friendly without being too invasive.
Whether it’s staff, clients, or trainers, you want to be sure that your gym culture includes everyone. It’s a living, breathing experiment at the end of the day—it only works well if the whole gym can feel included.
By making everyone feel included you create an environment where others are approachable, where there’s a “family” vibe and a strong community. When nobody is left out, everyone can thrive.
Educate to Inform, Not Reform
People are not fixer-uppers. Some gyms market themselves to people who think there’s something wrong with them, but there isn’t. They want to make a positive change in their lives and that’s an admirable thing—but it isn’t something that should be viewed as a project.
Fitness is a lifelong change. It should reflect their personal goals, a willingness to improve, and produce better habits. Teach fitness for those aspects, what it truly is, and don’t make people feel like there’s a problem that only your gym can solve.
Raise Others Up
Leaders don’t take the spotlight. Leaders bring everyone else up around them. Bring up your staff, your clients, and your trainers. Bring everyone up and do what you can to make them know they’re appreciated, that they’re doing their best, and that you’re there for them.
If you’re a good leader, everyone will see it. Everyone will know. There doesn’t need to be some proverbial spotlight on you—let your gym culture speak for itself and you’ll still be put in a positive light.
Avoiding Toxic Gym Culture for Your CrossFit Affiliate
Gym culture has a bad reputation for being toxic. We both know that it isn’t, but it’s hard to change someone’s perception once they’ve already made up their mind. It’s not a good use of your time to try and convince others, so we’ll take a different approach instead.
The best way to be seen as a positive and inclusive gym is to simply put your focus on being positive. Bring others up, make sure everyone feels included to the best of your ability, and make sure you address issues as they pop up and deal with them. Gym culture can get toxic when staff members or management avoids a problem in the name of keeping things positive, when in reality it does the opposite. Problems happen; your ability to deal with them will speak volumes.
Additionally, there are some other things you can do to prevent toxic gym culture from rooting in your gym.
Make Sure Advice Comes From a Professional Place, Not a Personal Place
We talked about being professional at all times, but that can be a slippery slope if you aren’t careful. It’s easy to blue the lines between being professional and being indifferent, and we don’t want to do that at all.
When you give advice, make sure it doesn’t have personal implications. If it’s to a staff member, don’t talk about how their shortcomings make you feel—that’s irrelevant to everyone except for you. Talk about how their mistakes may impact the professional setting, why it’s important that they do their best to work on any weak areas in their performance.
Make sure you include them in the narrative. Talk to them about their ideas and what they believe would improve the position. As a leader, it’s important to find ways to reduce friction for your employees. If you aren’t actively trying to lead your team and help them realize their experience and input matters, you’ll run into problems.
Work to Improve, Not to Exhaust
Your team should be trying to improve over time, of course, but it’s very easy to get into an efficient mindset and forget that you shouldn’t improve at the cost of exhaustion.
Eventually, efficiency becomes a backwards journey. You try hard and work so much to become efficient that you actually become less efficient. On that subject, Stanford has this to say:
“...overworked employees may simply be substantially less productive at all hours of the work day, enough so that their average productivity decreases to the extent the additional hours they are working provide no benefit (and, in fact, are detrimental).”
There’s a lot of truth to that. If you go too hard, you’ll run out of energy and your efficiency will flatline. It’s a classic tale of the hare and the tortoise: pace yourself, and expect the same of your employees.
The best way to follow this principle and make it work for you and your staff is this: cut out everything that is nonessential to their primary role. If they work the front desk and restocking merchandise or running around with messages for staff members is tiring them and stressing them out, cut it out. Find a new solution so they can focus on the primary part of their job, which is dealing with customers, sign-ups, and answering questions.
The same goes for your janitorial staff. Some gyms will hire a janitor that can both clean and repair machines. That’s great, but what happens when there’s a spill or dirty machines that need to be cleaned while they’re also in the middle of repairing a treadmill? Prioritization gets difficult, and you’ll end up ticking someone off somehow while also running your employee’s morale into the ground.
If the working conditions are toxic for your staff, it rubs off on how they treat guests. Your clients can also see the effects; they’re far more perceptive than we often give them credit for. Start from the top down with your staff and you’ll be able to cull any toxic gym culture like it’s nothing.
Make Fitness Fun and Exciting
Self-improvement is amazing. Working out solely because of your body image is not. CrossFit classes that improve your stamina and happiness are great, but doing it just because you have to fit into a dress isn’t.
The point is this: make sure your gym and staff focus on the positives of exercise while avoiding vanity. A great way to do this is to point out the genuine, true benefits that fitness provides. Let’s run through a few examples.
Make it a point to say “You look so happy and excited” instead of saying “You look great” or “You’ve lost weight.” Don’t focus on the wrong benefit.
“You’re crushing those goals” is a great thing to point out after a class or a one-on-one training session. It’s not advised to say “You’re doing so much better than you did last week.” That implies they did poorly, they were being judged on their performance, and it may make them hesitant to come back.
Everyone is on a different fitness journey for different reasons. It’s important to make sure they feel encouraged and you focus on the exciting parts of exercise to keep it fun and engaging.
Train Encouraging, Kind Personal Trainers
Your personal trainers arguably have more to do with the success of your class system than you do. You may design the classes, build the environment, and be the reason that they’re happening, but you’re not on a personal level with your clients like your trainers are.
Hire trainers who are kind, encourage the best from your clients, and are respectful to others. It’s important for your trainer to know what they’re doing in terms of fitness instruction, nutritional guidance and all of the above, but it’s all lost if they can’t communicate well and respectfully with others.
Celebrate Everything With Your Clients
Did that long-standing client just come out of a class that they absolutely crushed? High-five them and complement them.
Did you personally spot a client who hit a new limit on the bench? Celebrate it; meet their energy.
Meet them on their level and read the room. Hype them up when they accomplish something; make sure the focal point is centered around how they should be proud of themselves. Remind them of their hard work and take this opportunity to bring them up as much as possible.
Discuss and Train Gym Culture With Your Staff Weekly
Gym culture is an ongoing effort. You can’t just train your staff on it once. You have to keep at it. Bring up discussion points with your staff during monthly or quarterly meetings and make it a point of conversation. Here are a few ways you can discuss gym culture with your staff.
Have you noticed any upset clients or negative moods around the gym in recent memory?
Especially in a customer service role (think front desk staff and trainers), identifying upset, angry, or disgruntled customers is absolutely necessary to keep your business in check.
Did you encounter problems you weren’t able to resolve this past month?
This one is big because it lets you know the competency level of your individual staff members when it comes to handling upsetting or difficult tasks. You need to know who you can count on when you’re not around, because while it’s okay that not every single staff member can deal with difficult tasks, you need to know that someone is around to prevent damaging customer relations.
Did you feel as though management was responsive enough to help you?
Management should be available to help staff. Whether that’s you, a manager you hire, or a co-owner, you have to make sure your staff feels like they can always ask for help. It helps regulate stress in their job and will help you run a tighter ship at the same time.
You’re on Your Way to Being the Best CrossFit Affiliate Out There
Gym culture is everything. Without it, you’re destined to fail. It’s difficult to build, but rewarding once it’s there—all you have to do is maintain it and nurture it so that it can sustain on its own. If you approach the idea of gym culture with inclusion and equity for all, you’ll be successful.
Many gyms incorporate toxic positivity into their culture. CrossFit is fantastic because of how different it is, and how much it just wants to include people. It’s up to you to continue their mission of inclusion in your gym.